It was always dark in the dream, and yet, she could see. The forms lacked definition and shimmered a bit, making all of it hazy, but Makoto could see the paleness of the skin beneath her fingers. For the little her sight was impaired, her sense of touch was increased. Her fingers marveled at the warmth and softness as they slid along a bare arm, over the delicate slope of a breast, and down a smooth belly.
A thrill raced along her spine as lips whispered softly against her neck and across her shoulder. Nails scratched lightly against her back, desire washing over her as she was pulled closer. Slim legs tangled and moved with her own, a strength to them that belied their owner’s small frame.
A pulse beat rapidly against her palm where it rested against the curve of her companion’s neck. Her fingers moved slowly up into the silky blue waves of hair enough to maneuver the girl to where she wanted her. A sigh of warmth against her skin, and Makoto moved so lips could touch lips. In a kiss that was as long as it was sweet, she felt herself live, die, and be reborn, better and more complete.
When the kiss ended, she pulled back slowly and stared down at the one she was with. Her companion’s eyes opened slowly, a contented smile on beautiful, pale pink lips. And in that moment, Makoto found herself happily lost in an ocean of bottomless blue.
* * *
Makoto opened her eyes to Usagi’s sing-song voice and a hand being waved in front of her face. She blinked several times to adjust her vision, the dull throb in her temple she’d closed her eyes against still there and slowly getting stronger. Then she noticed everyone gathered around Rei’s table staring at her.
She lifted her chin from her hand and fidgeted a bit. “Hey, come on, guys, there’s gotta be something more interesting to ogle at than me.”
“Are you feeling all right, Mako-chan?” asked Ami, her words tinged with concern. “It’s not like you to fall asleep during study meetings.”
“Especially three times in one week,” added Rei.
Makoto waved off their concern. “I’ve had some trouble sleeping at night, that’s all. I keep having weird dreams,” she threw in as an after thought, and immediately regretted doing so.
Usagi’s and Minako’s eyes widened in curiosity as mischievous grins formed on their lips. Both girls simultaneously leaned forward on their elbows, their chins resting on their fists.
“Dreams, Mako-chan?” said Minako teasingly. “What kind of dreams?”
“What kind?” mimicked Usagi in the same teasing tone.
Makoto shifted uncomfortably under their combined gaze, then made a quick decision on the best course of action. Refusing to look any of them in the eye, she hurriedly gathered her things together. “You know what?” she said as she shoved her books in her bag. “I am feeling a little out of it. I’m going to head home and just crash in bed for the rest of the night.”
In her haste to leave, Makoto didn’t catch the worried gaze of Ami’s eyes as they followed her out or the quiet look of question that passed between Luna and Artemis.
* * *
When Makoto arrived home, she kicked off her shoes, closed the door, then went over and fell onto her couch in a boneless heap. The headache had gotten worse after she left Rei’s, and recent experience taught her there was only one way to get rid of it. So, reaching over her head until her hand encountered the drawer knob on the end table, Makoto opened the small drawer and fumbled around for her pill bottle. When she had it, she shook out four ibuprofen, then dry swallowed them before recapping the bottle and letting it fall to the floor.
The bottle rolled until it hit one of the note cards that were scattered out over the livingroom floor. The one it landed on read in neat block print, ‘Rei – outside production studio w/Minako.’ That card was grouped in by highlighter color under the category of ‘I first met…’ For each of her four closest friends, there were two ‘I met’ cards. The same was true for nearly every other card on the floor, as well.
Makoto looked down at the life she was trying to map out and organize. For a long time after Luna and Artemis had restored their memories of that first year together, Makoto had walked around in a state of mild confusion. Recently passed weeks overlapped with their original counterparts. She found herself reliving days, knowing she’d already done all of it, and not sure if she was supposed to do the same thing only with the added element of Minako, or if she was supposed to do something completely different. Always to be left wondering if that other part of her past even really counted, when it had been so thoroughly erased. But they were her memories, many of them good even if she had no real timeline to place them in, and she wasn’t just going to let them fade away.
Some time ago, after that year passed for a second time, Makoto had felt the need to put some better organization to her jumble of memories. It had started on a divided sheet of notebook paper and graduated to the several dozen note cards that were now all over her floor. She believed, with this method, she had been able to get everything all worked out. Then, about a month ago, the dream had started to change.
The dream had begun simply enough, back in the time when she’d forgotten her friends. Her reaction to it, though, had been anything but simple. She was more than unnerved that first night, waking up in the dark sweaty and breathing hard. At the time, she had only the vague impression of a person, a very obviously female person, and the physical effect it had on her. Several weeks passed before the dream came back, still very vague, and still very pleasurable. In the daylight, she didn’t care to think about the dream or its possible implications. To do so would mean letting go of the daydreams of everything she wanted and needed to fill the hole she felt in her life, and that frightened her more than anything. At night, though, when she was alone in the dark, she learned to accept what she couldn’t fight and chalked it up to strange hormones when the images became clearer or more frequent.
Makoto remembered the exact night when she first clearly saw those bottomless blue eyes staring up at her. She knew her friends by then, had been given back the part of her life and herself that had been willingly sacrificed for her princess. Yet, as embarrassing as it was to realize she was fantasizing about one of her friends, Makoto never believed it to be any more than a fantasy. But fantasies didn’t include your best friend crying, and they never included anyone dying.
A sharp pain in her left temple forced Makoto to close her eyes. She rolled onto her back and laid her arm across her eyes to block out the light her eyelids wouldn’t. Stupid headaches were starting to affect her sleep as much as her dreams were.
But they weren’t really just dreams, were they? She was nearly certain of that now that the dreams were becoming longer and more focused. Ami no longer appeared only in her bed. In one flash, she would be standing in the doorway, nervous and apologetic. In another, they would be sitting together, tears in Ami’s eyes.
The words echoed in Makoto’s mind, and she turned over onto her side, curling up as she did.
I couldn’t ask her to stay. Couldn’t tell her tomorrow I may die.
I shouldn’t be, but I’m afraid.
Makoto whimpered and covered her ears in a futile effort to block out the disembodied voice. Her head pounded in time with her heartbeat as she tried to force it all away.
“I don’t remember!” she shouted to an empty room. “So just go away and leave me alone!”
* * *
Artemis jumped onto the fence that surrounded the playground and walked until he found the tree Luna had told him to meet her at. He leapt across to one of the lower branches and climbed until he came to the point where Luna lie waiting for him.
“I think she’s starting to remember,” said Luna when Artemis was seated across from her.
Artemis sighed and nodded his head. “I thought you were going to say something like that. What about Ami? Do you think she’s broken through the block also?”
Luna shook her head. “I don’t think so. If Ami was remembering what happened between them, she wouldn’t be able to hide it. It would be written all over her face every time she saw Makoto.”
His tail moving back and forth anxiously, Artemis asked, “What can we do this time? A second block won’t work, even if she would let us get close enough to try it.”
“There isn’t anything we can do,” answered Luna. “Except hope Makoto is in a forgiving mood when she realizes what it is we’ve done.”
* * *
Makoto woke the next morning on her couch, curled up in the same position she had fallen asleep in. Her sleep had been blessedly peaceful and dream free, and somewhere in the night, her headache had gone away as well. She got up and showered, but rather than making breakfast, she put on her running clothes and went out to try and unleash some of her restlessness.
The streets were quiet this early in the morning, though she did pass a few other Sunday joggers on her way through town. Makoto had no set course she was following, she simply allowed her feet to take her where they would. Thus, when she stopped to stretch and catch her breath, it surprised her to find she was standing at the steps to Rei’s shrine.
Slowly ascending the stairs, Makoto noticed how the sounds of the street disappeared to be replaced by the chirp of birds and the rustle of the springtime leaves. Those things alone helped ease the remaining tension in her body.
Rei was busy with her morning chores, her broom sweeping across one of the stone pathways, when Makoto saw her. She stood and watched the miko until she was spotted herself.
“Mako-chan, you’re here early,” said Rei as she walked over to her friend. “Feeling better?”
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” answered Makoto, feeling at a loss of what to say now that she was here and being spoken to.
Rei smirked, but the expression shifted to one of knowing. “If I may make an observation?” she asked. Then, when Makoto nodded, went on, “I don’t think Minako and Usagi were quite right when they were teasing you yesterday. I think it’s something else you’re seeing in your dreams. Once, when I was seeing things I didn’t want to, you noticed and offered me a sympathetic ear. I’ll do the same for you, if you need someone to talk to about it.”
“Thank you,” replied Makoto, a grateful smile slowly forming.
Once they were in Rei’s room, two cups of tea and a plate of comfort food in front of them, Makoto began to lose some of the conviction she’d felt about talking this out. Rei, however, sat patiently and waited until Makoto was ready to speak.
Finally, Makoto said nervously, “They weren’t completely wrong about the dreams I’ve been having. But there’s more to it than that.” She reached for her cup and held it up to take a sip before admitting quietly, “And it involves Ami.”
Rei bobbled her teacup when she heard that, then cursed under her breath when the hot liquid dribbled over onto her skin. She set the cup down quickly and grabbed a napkin to wipe at her hands. “Involved Ami?” she said as she finished cleaning herself off. “Like involved Ami?”
“Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Look, if you don’t want to talk anymore, I understand,” said Makoto hastily, moving as if to rise and leave. “Just please don’t tell anyone.”
“Hold on, hold on,” answered Rei, gesturing for her to stop. “I didn’t say that. I just said I was surprised. You did throw this at me out of the blue, ya know.”
Makoto calmed herself and resettled. “Yeah, I suppose so.”
“So, you’re having interesting dreams about Ami, and it’s bothering you?”
“That’s only part of it,” explained Makoto. “When the dreams first started, I didn’t know who it was. Then, when I realized it was Ami, it bothered me because it felt really wrong to be thinking of one of you like that. But they were only dreams, and Ami is just so…” She trailed off for a moment, her cheeks coloring at her thoughts. An embarrassed cough, then she continued, “But I thought it was okay when it was just a dream, because we can’t control what we dream about. Now, though, I’m beginning to think it may have really happened.”
Rei gaped at her. “Why?”
“Because of the way they’ve been going lately,” answered Makoto, her embarrassment abating now that she had the chance to relieve some of her burden. “Until recently, it’s always just been us in bed. Now, I see her standing at my door, upset. Or she’s sitting on my couch trying not to cry. And I hear her voice. Even when I’m awake, I hear her saying, ‘She left me’ or ‘Tomorrow I may die.’”
Rei’s eyes went wide and a cold shiver ran through her. “’Tomorrow I may die.’ D-point?”
Makoto murmured an affirmative. “I think so. We never talk about any of that, and I understand why, but…” She paused, looking down into the reflection in her teacup. “Do you remember how you spent that last night?”
Rei pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them. She was glad to have had her lost memories restored, but there were some things she wouldn’t have minded losing forever. “It was a long night for me,” she said slowly. “I helped Grandpa make dinner, and Yuuichirou ate with us. I sat in the den with Grandpa until he went to bed, then tried to sleep myself. Wound up in front of the fire for most of the night instead. Started thinking about what I would say to mom when I saw her again, and what it might do to Grandpa to lose me without ever knowing why.” Rei released a sigh, then looked directly at Makoto. “What about you?”
“I don’t remember.”
“What?” asked Rei, her eyes showing her surprise. “How could you not remember something like that? Besides, you just said you remembered Ami saying…”
“No,” interrupted Makoto. “I dreamt about Ami. All of it was a dream. I have notebooks full of everything I can remember from back then. I’ve got it all separated on my livingroom floor by 1st and 2nd life. I can’t account for every hour of every day, but there are no glaring holes until that night. All I can remember is being with you guys in the afternoon when we decided to meet here, and then the next thing I know, we’re on the ice trying to keep Usagi from running after an illusion. I have no idea how we got there.” Makoto stood and started pacing, one hand going to the back of her neck and massaging hard against the new tension building. She muttered a small curse against the new headache she felt forming, then asked, “Do you have anything stronger than aspirin?”
“Tylenol,” answered Rei as she also stood. “Another headache?”
“Yeah,” answered Makoto. “Never mind about the pills, but do you understand what I’m telling you? If that dream is what really happened, if Ami came to me because she was scared and alone, and I took advantage of her like that…”
“Calm down, Mako-chan,” said Rei firmly. “To begin with, you don’t even know for certain if it really happened. Secondly, you would never take advantage of anyone that way. The thought repulsed you back then as much as it does now, no matter what the circumstances may have been. Has Ami ever implied that she thinks something may have happened between you two?”
“No, and that’s part of my problem,” replied Makoto. “Either she’s forgotten, too, or she wants to forget it ever happened and is hoping I don’t ever bring it up either.”
Rei let out a puff of air and plopped down on her bed. “If you’re both forgetting, then it has to be intentional.”
“I’ve realized that,” answered Makoto as she sat beside Rei. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, because I don’t think Usagi or Minako would be terribly happy if I turned their pets into throw rugs. But it’s starting to look like I’m going to have to go to them if I want any sort of answers.”
“Would you let me try something first?” asked Rei.
“Come back tonight around ten. I’ll give you all the details then.”
* * *
Sitting up slowly, Makoto rubbed at her eyes and tried to orient herself. Her head felt heavy and fuzzy, the sensation making her want to lay back down and sleep.
“Guess I fell asleep on the couch again,” she muttered to herself. Then she reached over and turned on a lamp, squinting against the brightness in the formerly dark room.
A knock at her door startled Makoto. She stood a bit too quickly, staggering for a moment before finding her equilibrium. She made her way over to the door and opened it, smiling at the person she saw standing there. Makoto had thought she’d be spending tonight alone while the others were all with their families.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so late,” said Ami quietly, her hands twisting anxiously in front of her. “I knew you’d be alone, and I wound up that way as well. So, I thought perhaps you’d like someone to keep you company.” She looked up at Makoto, her eyes hopeful.
Makoto moved aside and gestured Ami in. “I’m glad you came by. I didn’t really want to be alone, but I know everyone has more important places they need to be right now. Do you want anything to drink?” she asked as Ami sat on the couch. “Or are you hungry?”
Ami shook her head. Then the first tear fell. She kept her head bowed, not wanting to burden her friend, but unable to keep it from happening.
“Ami, sweetie, what’s wrong?” asked Makoto soothingly as she sat beside Ami and took the girl’s hands in her own, able to feel them shaking as she did. “What happened? Why aren’t you with your mom?”
“She left,” answered Ami, a few more tears quietly falling. “The hospital called. There was an accident, and they’re short on doctors. So she left me to go take care of them.”
“I’m sorry,” replied Makoto, giving Ami’s hands a gentle squeeze.
“I understand why she had to go,” said Ami. “I couldn’t ask her not to, and there was no way I could explain to her that tonight could be the last chance I have to speak with her because tomorrow I may die.”
Makoto carefully raised one hand and brought it to rest on Ami’s cheek. She used her thumb to wipe away the tears there. They had stopped falling after the first initial few, but the shine of those left in Ami’s eyes made her irises seem bluer somehow, and sadder.
“I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m afraid,” admitted Ami softly. “Though I believe Usagi will triumph in the end, the sacrifices made along the way are what I keep thinking about. But I don’t regret my duty at all, or the fate that will come with it. I only regret that I’m going into it without being able to say the things I should have to those who mean the most to me.” A warm blush formed across her cheeks, and Ami dropped her eyes back down to her hands, where Makoto still held on to her. “I wrote Mom a note. It’s someplace she won’t find it right away, but I couldn’t leave and have her never knowing why or what happened to me.”
“You did the right thing,” said Makoto. Then she chuckled ruefully. “The only ones who would even notice I was gone are my plants. And I don’t really think they’d appreciate a note.”
“I would miss you,” said Ami as she looked back up at Makoto. “I would miss you very much.”
As she looked into Ami’s eyes, Makoto saw the naked honesty in her statement along with all the things Ami had never said. Her breath caught, and warmth spread through her at the knowledge that she was one of Ami’s most important people.
Moving very cautiously, Makoto brought her hand back up to Ami’s cheek. This time, though, she used the backs of her fingers to stroke the baby soft skin there. When Ami closed her eyes and tilted in towards the touch, Makoto swallowed hard. It was a night for taking chances, she decided, especially since it might be the last one she got. So, calling up all of her bravery, Makoto leaned forward and touched her lips to Ami’s.
A sudden bright flash, accompanied by a pain described best as being hit over the head by a 2x4, knocked Makoto from her dream. She clutched at her head and fell forward, her knees hitting the hard wood of the fire room floor. She could hear Rei calling her name, but it was barely audible over the ringing in her ears. The scent of the incense Rei had lit at the beginning of their session wafted over her and made her stomach turn. A fine sheen of sweat broke out on Makoto’s brow as she tried to keep her dinner in its place and get everything around her to stop spinning.
The quick thud of footsteps near her led to a hand being placed on her back. A cup of lukewarm liquid was placed against her lips, and she heard Rei say, “Try and drink some of this. Trust me.”
Makoto took a small gulp, swallowed, then gagged. Coughing, she sputtered out, “That’s disgusting! What the hell is it?”
Rei’s hand rubbed against Makoto’s back as she answered, “Grandpa’s secret hangover formula. He always keeps a jug of it mixed up just in case, and it’s good for curing a lot more than just hangovers. Now, relax. Take a few deep breaths.”
Makoto did as she was told. That horrible taste stayed in her mouth, but after a few minutes, her stomach settled and her head began to clear. She sat up from the hunched over position she’d wound up in and leaned back on her hands. When she opened her eyes, the room stayed steady, and she saw Rei sitting there, backlit by the sacred fire. On the miko’s face, curiosity overlapped the concern her voice had suggested earlier.
“I recommend you go and buy Usagi a really nice gift,” said Makoto, her voice void of any humor. “Because I’m going to kill Luna.”
* * *
Hands in her jacket pockets, Makoto took a few aimless steps, then kicked a stone against the fence outside Usagi’s house. She’d been here for almost an hour, having heard about Ikuko’s Monday shopping enough times to know the woman wouldn’t be home when she dropped by. With Usagi and Shingo at school, and Kenji at work, that left only one occupant inside the house. And Makoto had seen her in Usagi’s window, so Luna knew she was here. It was just a matter of how long it would take for the black cat to get herself down here.
Noise on her left caught Makoto’s attention, and she turned to see a familiar white cat attempting to get by unnoticed. He froze when he was spotted, caught like a deer in headlights. Artemis was saved from Makoto’s wrath, however, as Luna suddenly jumped down beside him. She didn’t say anything, just turned and started walking. Artemis fell in step beside her, and Makoto followed behind them.
Luna led them to a spot in a nearby park that was fairly secluded. She had picked this place for her meetings with Artemis because of the privacy it offered. Here, Makoto could get as loud as she needed, and there wouldn’t be anyone around to question why she was yelling at a pair of cats.
Keeping a fair amount of distance between them, Luna jumped onto a picnic table, Artemis beside her, and faced Makoto.
Her arms crossed over her chest, Makoto stared down at the guardian cats. “Why?”
“Because, at the time, it seemed like the best thing to do,” answered Luna.
“How dare you?” shot back Makoto, her fingers digging into her arms as her anger came to the surface. “You had no right!”
“Please, Mako-chan,” said Artemis as he took a cautious step forward. “Try and understand why we did this. We had only a few seconds to react when we saw that memory coming to the surface. Blocking it wasn’t something we wanted to do.”
“If it had been up to us,” jumped in Luna, “you all would have been left to the normal lives you’d been given. But you were needed to fight again, so we had no choice but to restore your memories as Senshi. That one of you and Ami, though… What we saw in that memory was an act of desperation, born of fear and loneliness. If we had allowed it to come through, neither of you would have been able to look each other in the eye, let alone fight beside each other.”
“That’s why we did it,” added Artemis. “We didn’t have time to weigh the outcomes of any other choices.”
“You took all of our choices away when you took that memory!” yelled Makoto. Her arms fell to hang by her sides, hands balled into tight fists. “You never even gave us a chance to try!”
“You were both too young and inexperienced to handle the aftermath of something like that,” answered Luna, her tail beginning to twitch. “We couldn’t take the chance.”
“Damn you,” spat Makoto. “You act like you’re some holier-than-thou, all knowing, benevolent sage, trying to save us from ourselves. But you have no idea what was going on with us.” Then she asked, “Can you get the memory back?”
Luna refused to answer, but Artemis came forth with a tentative, “Yes. But you’ve already remembered. Or do you think you’re still missing something?”
“I better not be missing anything else,” replied Makoto. “Cause if I find out I am, I’ll skin both of you and make mufflers out of your hides. And I meant getting it back for Ami.”
“Is that really what you want?” asked Luna calmly. “Think about it Mako-chan. We took less than one day from your lives, yet in the years since then, where has your relationship with Ami gone? You are still just friends, aren’t you, regardless of the closeness of that friendship? What do you think giving her back that one memory will do to her?”
Makoto stood, the anger seething off of her almost palpable. Yet, under the anger was also frustration and confusion and hurt. These things Luna expected. She also expected Makoto to take it out on them for their parts in all of it. What she didn’t expect was for Makoto to suddenly turn and start walking away.
“Mako-chan,” called Artemis as she started to leave.
Makoto paused, but didn’t turn around. “We’re done with this for now, but don’t think it’s over. You could be right when you say fear and loneliness played a part in what happened, but there was more to it than that. And you took it away from me. I won’t forgive you for that.” Her shoulders rose and fell as she took a deep breath. “Her mom’s working tonight, so Ami’s coming over. I want to be home when she gets there, so she doesn’t worry any more about me than she has because I skipped school, but I have some things to pick up first before I go back.” Saying all she intended to for the time being, Makoto left Luna and Artemis alone in the park.
When they couldn’t see her anymore, Luna let out a huge sigh. “I suppose that could have been much worse,” she said quietly.
“Wonder what she’ll do?” asked Artemis absently.
Luna looked back in the direction Makoto had gone in. “She’ll go home and start to fix dinner. When Ami gets there, she’ll reassure her numerous times that she’s fine, that all she did was oversleep this morning and just decided it was too late for school when she finally woke up. They’ll spend a few hours talking about lots of little things, and then Makoto will walk Ami home, so she doesn’t have to go alone in the dark. And then Makoto will go home. Alone. Because that’s what Makoto does.”
Artemis looked at Luna, studying her expression for a moment. “You still think they aren’t ready?”
Luna closed her eyes and let her head droop, feeling very tired. “No. I think they might be ready, now.” Then she looked up at Artemis. “But old habits are very hard to break. It’s going to take them some time to learn new ones, and it’s going to have to be Makoto who goes first.”
* * *
It was always dark in the dream. As she lay there, the sheets and pillows soft and warm around her, the only thing she could see in the darkness was the one she was with. So Makoto reached out to her sleeping partner. Or maybe not sleeping, for when she placed a hand on Ami’s shoulder, she could feel light trembling.
“Cold?” she asked quietly as she moved closer and wrapped herself around Ami from behind.
“No,” came an answer in a slightly shaky voice.
Makoto felt the voice more than heard it, just as she felt Ami’s arms cover her own to hold them closer. Makoto tightened her grip, and some of the trembling subsided. She loosened one arm enough to reach down and pull the blanket up, kissing Ami’s ear gently as she tucked the fabric around them.
“We’re coming back,” said Makoto, her voice strong with a conviction she hadn’t felt before. “We’re coming back. And when we do, I plan on falling in love with you.”
“I would like that very much,” answered Ami quietly, a soft smile forming.
As a small, warm body pressed back against her, Makoto felt the fear and trepidation fade. In the comfortable haze the two of them created, she allowed herself to drift away.